Undercover animal activists have succeeded for the first time in bypassing tight security at eight Estonian pig farms and filming conditions described as deplorable. The farm operators are seething about the intrusion and possible compromising of systems to keep their animals free of disease, but veterinary authorities acknowledged extensive violations and have ordered tighter inspections.
The scenes in the footage, which were filmed by anonymous individuals and obtained by ETV, depicted bedlam, with pigs in crowded conditions suffering from extensive hernias, being trodden on by other pigs, and having only their own feces to root in.
The stealth operation parallels a similar action in Finland in 2009, which was revealed and caused controversy there last year along with the arrest of an activist.
Estonian animal activists greeted the release of the videos, which are posted on seavabrikud.ee. "I would be very glad if anyone who sees this material would think a bit about […] where their food comes from, for what price and maybe consider what conditions these pigs live in and whether it's really worth that roast pork," said Kristina Mering of In the Name of the Animals.
The Estonian pig farms targeted hastened to provide context for some of the seemingly grisly details, suggesting they may seem worse to the untrained eye. For instance, pigs at the largest of the eight farms, Rey AS in Rapla County, appeared to have extensive lacerations or scratches on their hides. Manager Valentin Kütt said it was because the pigs had got loose or had been herded into a new location. Hernias, some the size of a football, also stood out on the video. Kütt said although dramatic, the animals are not troubled by them. "We do not torture any animal, not even to the slightest degree," he said.
Pigs inevitably die naturally in any farming operation, with the rate at Rey AS estimated by Kütt to be 20 a month. But one scene left a haphazard impression of the post-mortem procedures, with dissected carcasses pictured lying in a hallway. "There is a certain place designated for dissections and afterwards they all have to be transported to sealed dumpsters, but this process was still in progress," Kütt said. He suggested the scenes were partially staged by activists who raided the dumpsters, which are unlocked.
But besides Rey and a modern Tartu County farm, the scenes got progressively worse, with Aluvere farm in Lääne-Viru County a pig hell. Mering of the animal rights group said: "On some farms there are animals who have essentially become mummified among other animals, there are also such decomposed corpses who have been half-eaten by others."
Besides the overcrowding and distressed and injured pigs, filth was a common denominator at all the farms.
The Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) animal protection department's director Tarmo Serva criticized the activists for an action that was "neither justified or rationalized," but took a sober view of the apparent violations. "But, and there is a 'but,' from the human aspect it is good that the truth is brought into daylight." Serva acknowledged that the undercover operation was also a serious criticism of the VTA. He said the VTA would carry out re-inspections at all of the farms, with violators facing fines of up to 50,000 euros.